An acceptable gift is a special kind of gift – the kind that pleases God. It’s a biblical theme throughout both the Old and New Testaments and uses the words “pleasing” and “acceptable” when referring to these gifts. God finds them pleasurable, satisfying and delightful. They have the power to engage His heart and connect us deeper with Him.
It first surfaces quite early in the Genesis account of Cain and Abel. The brothers each presented gifts to God. One gift was received with “favor” – it pleased God. The other was not received favorably. The New Testament describes Abel’s gift as a more acceptable one (Hebrews 11:4 ESV.) There are many details we don’t know about earth’s first children. But God wants us to know how He felt about their gifts.
Everyone wants to know about Cain and Abel’s gift. What did Abel do right? Or what did Cain do wrong? These are fair questions. Scripture gives us some clues, but also leaves some mysteries. Theologians have plenty of theories explaining the mysteries. But there are a few aspects of the story that are not mysterious at all – they are quite clear. Unfortunately, we often skip over them when seeking to understand the story. It says that Cain “presented some of his crops.” And Abel gave “the best of his first born lambs.”
There are two aspects that are significant here. First, as mentioned already, God is pleased by certain gifts. He responds emotionally to them. Secondly, we learn that the way God feels about our gifts affects the way we feel about them. When God reacts favorably to our gift, we feel good too. The reverse is also true. Notice that Cain did not feel good about his gift – he didn’t feel anything.
In Genesis 8 we see the second biblical gift account when Noah unloads the ark and offers burnt animal and bird offerings to God. Just as with Abel’s gift, God responds to Noah’s offering with a pleasing reaction. The bible says God smelled the pleasing aroma (v21). Then He made a significant covenant with Noah and the earth.
For the first 1700 years of biblical history, there are only a few positive events mentioned in scriptures: one is the favored gift from Abel; another is the pleasing gift of Noah. I think this is quite telling. It underscores the fact that God is interested in man’s gifts and paying attention to them.
Under the Law of Moses, the animals offered for sacrifice had to perfect, without blemish or defect, to be acceptable to God (Leviticus 1:3). These gifts were a shadow of another gift planned for the future. Sure enough, one particular Passover week while mans’ lambs were being sacrificed in Jerusalem, God’s own Lamb was sacrificed nearby on a cross. This Lamb was God’s very own son, Jesus. Just like the animal sacrifices that were presented without blemish, Jesus offered himself, holy and without blemish or defect, to God (1 Peter 1:19).
In the same way the animal sacrifices resulted in a pleasing aroma to God, the sacrifice of Christ was pleasing to God as well (Ephesians 5:2). I know this is hard to imagine. I never used to think of the events on the cross as a pleasing event. While I was grateful for the outcome, the bloodshed for my sins, I still viewed the scene on the cross as a violation against God.
But God viewed it differently. He understood the significance of this gift. He understood Jesus was providing for the redemption of all humanity. Jesus was a very pleasing and acceptable gift… the only gift that was acceptable to atone for man’s sins.
Obviously we don’t offer animal sacrifices today. Twenty first century gift forms have changed in obvious ways. But the “acceptable gift” standard did not change. Apostle Paul describes the cash gifts from the Philippians as a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God (Philippians 4:18). God still seeks pleasure and fulfillment from the gifts of His children. He still desires a connecting and deepening relationship with us through our gifts to Him.